President Obama will nominate Robert Harding, a retired Army major general, to take over the top job at the Transportation Security Administration, the White House announced this afternoon.
Harding is Obama's second nominee for the TSA administrator's job; the first, Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent, and the assistant chief of homeland security and intelligence with the Los Angeles World Airports police department, withdrew his name from consideration in January after Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., placed a hold on his nomination. Southers was accused of lying to Congress about improperly conducting a background check on his estranged wife's new boyfriend. But his nomination was also stalled by his promise to study collective bargaining rights for TSA employees — a move DeMint opposes.
Harding spent much of his career working in intelligence. He served for four years as the Defense Intelligence Agency's director of operations; one year as the director of intelligence for the Army's Southern Command; and nearly three decades in other intelligence positions. Harding founded a security consulting firm in 2003, after retiring from the Army, and sold the company in 2009.
"I am confident that Bob's talent and expertise will make him a tremendous asset," Obama said in a written statement. "I can think of no one more qualified than Bob to take on this important job."
The collective bargaining issue will almost certainly come up during Harding's confirmation. He hasn't made any past public statements on the subject, and labor unions say they're not sure where he stands on the issue.
"We haven't had the opportunity to research this candidate as we have some of the other White House nominees," said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. "However, if the administration believes him to be the best person to lead TSA, we will trust that decision until given a reason not to."
Gage said his union — which recently asked the government to hold an election to decide which union would represent TSA screeners — would continue to pursue collective bargaining rights.
So did Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union; in a statement to Federal Times, Kelley said that and other personnel issues should be near the top of Harding's agenda.
"[TSA] has a pay system that fails to recognize and reward employee contributions," she said. "[And] its workforce does not have the same critically important whistleblower rights as other federal employees."